A Thankful Day in San Francisco

Thanksgvng 2018 programMy favorite Thanksgiving thing has been – for the past 14 years – the San Francisco Interfaith Service. This year it was hosted (every year it’s a different faith community) by the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist in the city’s Tenderloin District, primary locale of the homeless and the down-and-out. Thanksgvng 2018 Church plan(The Christian Scientists have been in their historic building there since 1923, and after endless years of negotiating have recently gotten the green light from the city to build a multi-use high-rise including below-market housing on the site, keeping the façade and interior details –with the church itself staying put.)

Thanksgvng 2018 group

Faith leaders posing after the service

One gets to give thanks, at this event, in every known faith tradition. This year we had a little Greek, a little Hebrew, but I missed the Buddhist bell that’s usually rung and the Muslim call to prayer – both very much present, though, at the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast two days earlier. A few years ago a member of a Native American tribe spoke briefly at he prayer breakfast, opening with the comment, “I want to welcome you to my country.” I told him afterward I’m not sure he should’ve welcomed us. But anyway.

Thanksgvng 2018 Alcazar

The Alcazar

California is giving thanks for the approaching end to wildfires that have ravaged the state, destroying lives and property in the worst such events yet seen. In San Francisco, after days of smoky skies and streets filled with masked walkers, an overnight rain left the city washed clean. So it was a joy to walk the short mile home under brilliant blue skies, past historic buildings such as the Alcazar Theater.

But there was also the sad underside of life: the guy shouting into the sky, the mentally ill man tossing bottles from a recycling bin at passing traffic.Thanksgvng 2018 homeless (Another passerby said he had already called the emergency line to get help.) One can at least give thanks for helpers.

When I reached the corner near our building, another few blocks away I was rewarded with this view of Old Glory against the blue skies.

Thanksgvng 2018 flag

What’s not to love about a Thanksgiving Day in San Francisco?

 

 

 

Farewell to a Not-All-Bad Year

2016

Farewell to 2016? People all over the globe are saying good riddance.

There are those of us in the U.S. who believe that climate change is real, that the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving and the vast majority of Mexicans are neither rapists nor murderers, that women deserve better than to be denied rights and casually groped. Even those who believe otherwise admit reason and decency suffered some killer blows in the past year.

Poor 2016. Throw in global goings-on with the Brexit vote and the tragedies in Syria, Venezuela and too many troubled spots to mention, and it would seem there’s not a lot good to be said for the year. But it actually wasn’t all bad.

For openers, there are the things that didn’t happen: Nobody let loose a nuclear missile that would have begun the destruction of the planet. The Mosul Dam didn’t fail. Northern California didn’t have the devastating earthquake for which it is overdue. Even the luxury tower set to zoom up and block this writer’s 7th-floor balcony view of the far-off San Bruno mountains didn’t materialize. (OK, we know it’s coming. New York developer has the right to build to 240 feet, but so far the city says he can’t have an exemption to go 200+ feet higher.) So from the frivolous – which a 7th floor view certainly is – to the horror scenario, 2016 could surely have been worse.

good-news

And as for the good news? Glancing back over the posts on this site over the old year is one way to find a lot of it. A random few:

Mutual support and understanding among different religions was alive and well in 2016, as it will continue to be in the new year – at least in much of the U.S. Several times I wrote about events sponsored in San Francisco by the S.F. Interfaith Council, such as the Thanksgiving Prayer Breakfast – at which an overflow crowd representing people of all faith communities reaffirmed their commitment to human rights, social justice and world peace before launching into a rousing chorus of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Philanthropy is alive and well too. In May, a 3-year-old friend of ours decided to open his piggy bank and give the money ($32.60) to his two favorite charities: the local library and the hospital where he and his baby-sister-to-be were born. His philanthropy spurred several matching gifts. Who says you have to be a zillionaire to be a philanthropist and do good in the world?

More than once I wrote about one of my real life heroes, Dr. Willie Parker, an African American physician determined to keep abortion access available to those who are denied reproductive healthcare: most often poor women of color. Nothing will slow down Willie Parker.

justice

And speaking of heroes, In January I was fortunate to be part of a collaborative celebration of Martin Luther King Day, with a predominately white church and its predominantly black partner church, affirming King’s message that only light can drive out darkness, and only love can drive out hate. It’s only a small effort in one small part of the globe, but as members of the two communities work (and play and sing) together, light shines on racial injustice.

There have been other optimistic highlights, such as the Internet Archive celebrating its 20th anniversary. The IA is a mind-bending, increasingly successful effort to make All Knowledge Available to All, for free. Impossible? Believe. Another blog highlighted another impressive physician, Dr. Angelo Volandes, who was touring the country last year with his new book The Conversation. Volandes is on a campaign to end aggressive, unnecessary, unwanted and often cruel end-of-life treatment. What happens in emergency rooms and intensive care units during the last few days of life for millions of Americans is an expensive disgrace; Volandes’ efforts will help change that.

In August I was caught in the middle of Delta’s computer meltdown, and spent some interesting hours trying to get from Atlanta to San Francisco. What was worth writing about were the many acts of kindness among airport crowds. They reminded me of flying from San Francisco to Portland OR several days after 9/11, when it seemed everyone in America wanted only to be kind to everyone else.

That spirit is still here, somewhere; we just need to recover it after a bruising year.

world-peace-1

 

 

Prayer, Peace & Song to Start the Day

world-peaceOK, this is San Francisco: love and peace reign. But it’s also Thanksgiving: gratitude and community. Celebrations of love, peace, gratitude and community are taking place not just on the left coast but across the country, as we begin to exhale after a bitterly troubled few months. Exhalation in community can be a great way to start the day.

“Hope,” said one speaker at the recent Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Breakfast, “is right there where it’s always been, between faith and love.” There was plenty of all three. Some 385 early-risers were gathered for the event, sponsored by the San Francisco Interfaith Council and billed as “The Soul of the City: Faith and Social Justice in San Francisco.”

Marsha Attie

Marsha Attie

It all began with the sounding of a Buddhist Ceremonial In Kin Bell – a successful attempt to bring a little quietude into the amiable masses – followed by Pacifica Institute’s Fatih Ferdi Ates’ recitation of the Muslim Call to Prayer, in a voice that certainly reaches to the heavens. Brahma Kumaris Sr. Sukanya Belsare read the interfaith statement of the sponsoring SFIC, which is read at all board meetings and events and says, in effect, “Whatever your faith or faith tradition, it’s okay. We’re here to learn, and understand.”

Led by Cantor Marsha Attie of Congregation Emanu-El, the crowd then launched into a rousing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Throughout the two-hour scrambled-eggs-&-mixed-fruit breakfast there were songs, honors, laughs and commentaries. Not to mention prayers in virtually every known faith tradition. A few highlights are encapsulated below:

SFIC Executive Director Michael Pappas: “The interfaith community will always stand for human rights, social justice and equality for all.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (to a standing ovation): “San Francisco will remain a sanctuary city.”

Kat Taylor & Tom Steyer

Kat Taylor & Tom Steyer

Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of California, introducing event honorees Kat Taylor and Tom Steyer to the audience and audience to the honorees (loosely paraphrased): “Bringing the mind effectively into the heart to do good works can result in reverence, compassion, forgiveness and courage.” Andrus then did a warm-up exercise, reciting a litany of actions such as feeding the hungry, protecting the oppressed and helping the poor, to an enthusiastic audience response of “We’re Still In!”

Honoree Tom Steyer, Founder and President, NextGen Climate (and major donor to progressive political causes – San Francisco is still San Francisco): “Troubled times give everyone a chance to lead a meaningful life. (A) challenge is to embrace our full humanity. The. U.S. didn’t start with full humanity for everyone.” Steyer then deferred to the co-honoree, his wife Kat Taylor, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Beneficial State Bank and a ferocious advocate for changing the food and banking systems for good through business models and philanthropy.

Mark Leno

Mark Leno

Honoree Taylor: “You knew I would sing” – launching into the Christian hymn standard “Here I Am, Lord,” with several hundred of the guests joining in.

Presented a proclamation by SFIC Board Chair G. L. Hodge – who said he relished the opportunity, since the recipient was famous for issuing proclamations himself, termed-out California State Senator Mark Leno: “I recognize this frame, from something I sent earlier. But I always say, ‘Reuse, Recycle, Re-elect.’”

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, after leading the crowd in reciting “The Prayer of St. Francis”: “Ministering to God’s creation is an act of worship. We must affirm the dignity and worth of every person, and we all have to be instruments of God’s peace.”

 

 

 

On Light Overcoming Darkness

MLK on darkness

While governments talked of war and security last week, and innocents in Lebanon, Kenya, France, Afghanistan and elsewhere buried their dead, faith communities around the globe struggled to find ways to make sense of it all. Or at least to respond. Places of worship opened their doors, labyrinths were crowded with walkers, friends called friends.

One response in one corner of the world came on Sunday, November 15 in the form of a service of words and music by Muslims, Christians and Jews at San Francisco’s Calvary Presbyterian Church which this writer was fortunate to attend. It is, in all probability, exemplary of other responses across the planet.

Calvary pastor John Weems noted, in welcoming a sanctuary filled with visitors and regulars, that ever since the beginning of history there have been times when it seemed the world would end, “that darkness would overcome. But in fact death and darkness do not get the last word.”

And the next word came from Fatih Ates, San Francisco & East Bay Director of Pacifica Institute: “Peace and blessings on us all.” Ates gave the Adhan, or Muslim Call to Prayer. Conveniently for the non-Arabic speaking members of the congregation, an English translation of the Adhan was published in the bulletin. (It begins with repetitions of “God is Greater,” continues through bearing witness to core precepts and ends with “There is no god except the One God.” Believers and nonbelievers alike might embrace the notion that Somebody Else is still in control.)

Later in the service, Ates spoke of his deep faith, and of how that faith – Islam – “strongly condemns acts of violence. Every terrorist act,” he said, “is against universal values and human values.” He emphasized these truths with quotations from the Qur’an. (Chapter 5, verse 32; Chapter 4, v 93, and Chapter 49 v 13; readers are invited to look them up.) “Terrorism has no religion, no faith” Ates said; “we must fight against extremism.”

Among other messages:

Rabbi Lawrence Raphael of Congregation Sherith Israel referred to the last line of the Kaddish, the prayer said at Jewish funerals and occasionally at other times: “May God who makes peace in heaven . . . make peace upon us.”

Calvary pastor Joann Lee, speaking to the children, suggested that in scary times they “look for the helper;” because there are always helpers, something borne out by both scriptural references and secular reality.

San Francisco Interfaith Council Executive Director Michael Pappas spoke of the “solidarity and prayers of people of many faiths” (locally including 800 San Francisco congregations) that would ultimately overcome darkness.

And for the prayer, another Calvary pastor, Victor Floyd, sang the “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord have mercy) familiar to Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox and other Christians — in Urdu, the language of Fatih Ates’ native Turkey.

Finally, there was a moving moment of light. California Assemblymember David Chiu, a member of Calvary who went from social justice work into politics a few years ago, explained the Presbyterian custom of “passing the peace,” greeting friends and strangers. candlesChiu spoke of San Francisco as being a city on a hill, a city of light, and everyone, having been given candles on entering the sanctuary, raised their lighted candles in a room in which the light until that moment was dim.

The act of raising a candle into the gloom, lifting some light of hope, making one small statement against injustice may be primarily symbolic, but it’s a start.

And proof that light can drive out darkness.

 

The Complete Speechmaker’s Guide

american flag

“Our strategic plan,” the speaker began, “is to make the city safer… improve the quality of life.” He went on to address issues of crime, senior citizen needs, funding and the difficulty of accomplishing goals: “Through Vision Zero we are…”

More gracious audience members were paying careful attention; this writer had veered off into the fantasy of creating a template for The Fail-Safe Public Speech. Why not?

President Obama, after all, had just delivered a couple of important speeches on critical issues, and how many people were really listening? Most of us were mentally hitting the tab bar and catching the pertinent lines (or waiting for the pundits, who were doing the same thing) to say what was really said.

In the interest of saving a lot of people a lot of time (and with apologies to the truly articulate and interesting speaker at a recent San Francisco Interfaith breakfast) a free, fill-in-the-blank outline is submitted here:

My fellow ______________.

I want to call your attention to the urgent status of our__________________, and in doing so, explain the need for immediate _____________.

The action we are undertaking will insure your future ________, __________, and ________, and your children’s ____________.

I hope you will keep all of these in mind as I outline our strategy, which includes strengthening our __________ in order to keep us all _________ and improve the quality of __________.

But it is not without cost. Our estimates for the ___ months/years ahead are $______________.

We know this requires sacrifice on your part. Knowing also of your _______, ______, and dedication to the cause of ________________, however, we do not hesitate.

You have my personal guarantee that _________ will prevail.

Thank you for your support.

(Applause.)

A little thankfulness

English: Cornucopia

English: Cornucopia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Thanksgiving starts, as it’s done for nine years, with the Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service — this year at the Buddhist Church. (Past services have been at churches, synagogues and last year the Mormon Stakehouse; it’s a learning experience and a lovely one.) And because thankfulness is indeed good for the soul, here are just a few of the things I’m thankful for… or not:

While the remarkable folks at places like St. Anthony’s continue to feed the hungry, Thanksgiving Day and every day, for which we can all be thankful, it’s hard to be thankful for Congressional Republicans who voted earlier this year to cut some $40 billion out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, which millions of Americans count on just to have enough to eat every day. But I’m thankful to live in a democracy and hopeful that a focus on the common good will eventually prevail over today’s focus on the one percent.

I am thankful for the slow but steady progress of the cause of death with dignity in this country. And that is thanks largely to Compassion & Choices, a fine organization if there ever were one. I’m not just thankful, but proud to have worked long and hard as a C&C volunteer for more than a decade.

Closer to my heart today is the cause of reproductive rights, partly because those rights are being relentlessly eroded. I remember so vividly what it was like to be a woman without such rights that it leaves me thankful beyond measure for those working so hard to protect them. People like –

Cecile Richards and everyone else connected with Planned Parenthood. Vilified because abortions are provided at some clinics (a tiny percentage of the services offered,) Planned Parenthood is now defending those who need insurance coverage for contraception. “Put simply, birth control is basic, preventive health care that millions of women rely on every day,” Richards wrote in a recent email. “Over 99 percent of sexually active women use birth control at some point in their lives, for a wide variety of reasons. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are now required to cover contraception with no out-of-pocket cost, a landmark step for women’s health that gives many women access to affordable birth control for the first time. (But) now a handful of out-of-touch, mostly male employers want to take that coverage away — and force their own beliefs onto tens of thousands of employees…”

In other words, a fertilized egg must be protected at all costs… including the cost of women’s health? Go figure. It’s headed to the Supreme Court, and reason, sanity and women’s health are likely to lose. So I’m thankful that Planned Parenthood is here at least to fight the battle.

Or others, like –

Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien, whose recent letter to the New York Times pointed out one simple, obvious truth: “Catholics in the United States have abortions and support access to abortion services at the same rate as other women do.”  Many of my Catholic friends are weary of themselves being vilified for a belief they do not hold — just because church officialdom insists on valuing their fertilized eggs more than themselves.

The Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service always includes a reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s (somewhat tedious) proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving, urging us all to be grateful for our multiple blessings “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” Some things haven’t changed in the past century or so. But listening quietly to the historic proclamation, surrounded by a bunch of Americans of every imaginable race, creed and political persuasion, somehow makes one hopeful that human rights of all sorts — daily bread and individual choice to name a couple — will eventually win out.

And that’s something to be thankful for.

Holidays and the “Worried Well”

Our local paper, the thin-but-still-here San Francisco Chronicle, greeted the morning recently with a story about a new hospital facility for “the worried well.” And I say, just in time. Some of us may be sick; most of us, I suspect, are among the Worried Well. Especially from now until next January 1.

The facility in question is the Brain Health Center, part of the California Pacific Medical Center‘s Davies campus. It is designed (with a little help from an anonymous $21 million gift) to address a multiplicity of brain-related issues, including help and support for those in fear of lurking neurodegenerative disease. If you haven’t ever worried about where you put the car keys or left the cell phone you can stop reading right now. You are in that tiny population of the angst-free unworried. Then there are all the rest of us.

(Since I am a contented Kaiser member, I feared for a moment that CPMC was one-upping us. But a quick check reveals Kaiser offers things like core dementia training and behavioral understanding, not to mention support groups without end to comfort the Worried Well.)

Worried Well issues range far beyond the challenges of short-term memory loss.  WWs don’t know where the next paycheck, or mortgage payment, is coming from, or whether that little lump might be malignant. Or if the good-looking guy at the party is ever going to call. Closer to home for yours truly it’s how a half-century of accumulated Stuff scattered around a four-story Victorian will ever reduce into the 1600-sq-ft condo at the continuing-care place where worries would be less and wellness more.

Here is the good news: faith trumps angst. At the annual Thanksgiving Day interfaith service sponsored by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the hearts of the Worried Well were encouraged by just about every known faith tradition. A little inner peace from the Buddhist bell, a few stories building trust and understanding from the Mormons and the Muslims, eloquent prayers from the Jews and the Brahma Kumaris. Pastor Maggi Henderson of Old First Presbyterian Church, who organized this year’s service, then spoke convincingly of how hard it is to be angst-ridden when simply contemplating being loved by the creator.

So it seems, with science and religion BOTH looking out for us, the worried may yet be well.